Monday, November 30, 2009

Why don't we have something like this?

One of the problems in reforming our US food system is that the various issues are placed in a fascinatingly eclectic array of government agencies.

While checking out the link on the site of the National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production - a wonderfully comprehensive list - I was reminded that in Britain they have got the whole spectrum in one department: DEFRA - the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

On their web site you can find the 411 on current legislation and news in all these areas. For example, you could learn about marine fisheries' health or "mad cow" disease, food labeling or CFL bulbs, farm wages or invasive species, dangerous dogs and national parks, and badger vaccination programs.

I don't have Britain envy when it comes to church, but I sure do when I think about this attempt to integrate these things I am concerned about - except maybe vaccinating badgers.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Re - re - re - re - re

No, I'm not singing Aretha's anthem, though it's one of my favorites.

I'm thinking about our lengthening list of re-'s, which began with reduce, reuse, recycle, and now features repurpose, rethink, reskill...

And, of course, the biggy, relocalize.

Scanning our local post-petroleum monthly email compendium the other day, I saw a magazine, partially available free on-line, Resurgence.

And in the recent issue, an article suggesting that the new key work is "resilience".

In it Rob Hopkins of Britain's Transition Network (raising consciousness and doing training in relocalization) suggests that not sustainability, but resilience, is the key property of systems which we should be emphasizing if we are to take the disruptions of climate change and post peak oil seriously.

Let's see if I understand this well enough to explain it. If we look at our local food system, sustainability has us paying attention to the fact that we are using few external inputs, that we are decreasing the number of seasonal jobs in favor of more stable year round employment, that our crops are in harmony with our local environment, and not a detriment. That sort of thing.

Now in a resilient system, we pay attention to biodiversity in our seed stock, so that we can face the coming drought (due to climate change) hopefully. We look at food storage strategies that are not energy intensive, as a hedge against crop failure. We help our workers learn a variety of skills, to enhance their chances of finding useful employment year round as weather patterns change. We look not only at sourcing agricultural inputs locally, but at marketing our product locally, too, perhaps with value added, as a hedge against escalating prices for transportation.

It occurs to me that the two things most necessary to building resilience in our systems are diversity - especially nurturing diversity locally, in eco and human systems - and community. Surely these are things good Christian people know something about. My own work with Total Ministry congregations has emphasized identifying and nurturing diversity, especially diversity of gifts, and strengthening people's capacity to work together, to achieve a more deliberate practice of community - not just for the sake of getting along, but for working and envisioning together. So I wonder why so few congregations are involved in this work or relocalization, of helping the communities in which they exist become more vibrantly resilient?

Fair Food Project

is a multimedia presentation from the California Institute for Rural Studies, an eco-justice organization.

I was mightily impressed by these three short segments describing the problems of farm workers. Comparing field labor working and living conditions to sweatshops - would we tolerate it or be protesting? But we are so invested in our cheap food supply, and the fields are so far away from our population centers, or from our sight even if they are not.

The second and third segments stress solutions. Sustainability involves workers, too. Whole foods, if we really meant it, involve a whole farm approach, seeing things systemically. A values-based rather than a product-based assessment of farm success is needed. And what about the idea that farmers building relationships with farm workers creates commitment, and with it increased productivity. There are many good clips and quotes here of farm owners trying to do the right thing for people and planet.

And - a tangential observation - after you've seen all the tomatoes picked green in the photos here, you will understand the lack of flavor in those you find at the supermarket. Even the last few from my garden, picked before frost and ripened inside after, have more flavor.

I'm going to buy this book

Yesterday I returned the library's copy of Cool Cuisine by Laura Stec.

I've actually had some email correspondence with Laura thanks to a member of the Environmental Commission in the Diocese of California. So I wanted to read her book on climate change and our food choices.

There is lots of data here, data you can use, data that's sound scientifically, with footnotes, no less. How our food is produced makes a significant contribution to greenhouse gases - which we knew. But here in one place is the ammo for making the case for those who don't want to spend endless hours surfing the web, and wondering about the edginess of some of the sites with data.

Laura is clearly not a strident purist, but a chef who wants people to do something to make a difference, improving their diet and its pleasures, while lessening their foodprint. One example is her comment on using imported spices and condiments - if they we get you eating more fruits and vegetables which are locally sourced, go ahead. What struck me as strange though, was the lapse into macrobiotic mythology (and I'm afraid here I am using that term not correctly, but pejoratively) in the latter chapters of the book. For me, the woo-woo detracted from the sensible tone of the rest of the work.

You'll also find here suggestions for things to do with others. Start a book and cook club and follow the suggestions for documentaries to watch and tastings to explore. And of course there are recipes. Great photos, too.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Food Security

State by state food insecurity

Why is it so high in states with moderate climates and long growing seasons?

Statistics on Hunger in the US

for 2008 were published last week.

In 2007 88.9% of households in the US were food secure - that is, they didn't worry that they were running out of food before they could afford to buy more, eat unbalanced meals because of a lack of food and the money to buy more, or skip meals because of a lack of food.

In 2008 it was 85.4% of households which could claim food security, with increasing food insecurity in middle income households.

Food insecurity among households with children is higher that the general numbers, particularly for single parent households. It was before the bottom fell out, and it probably will be if and when there is a recovery.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Good News for women, children and maybe food deserts

Somewhere in my travels last week, I heard on NPR's Marketplace about how the changes in WIC allowed foods were affecting small retailers. It's now possible to buy many more things with WIC coupons, including fresh fruits and vegetables - not just canned and juiced - and soy products. The theory is that this may cause small retailers in some neighborhoods, where access to food shopping is limited and where poor young women shop, to stock more of these things. Imagine. Tofu at the 7-11.

But looking through the new food lists and the related FAQs, here's what I think:
Any young woman who can care for children and navigate the details of these guidelines (like why you can't buy canned black eyed peas with your veg coupons, but you can buy frozen - or why only GMO soybean derived soy milks are on the list, but you can get McCann's steel cut irish oats - or why you can pay extra if your fresh fruit goes over the dollar value, but if your pound of bulk oats or lentils turns out to weigh 18 oz. the clerk has to dump out the extra - and on and on and on) should be given a college degree.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gone in 23 seconds

That's how quickly pigs with a little experience located food whose image they could see in a mirror.

Recent studies in pig genetics and cognition are summarized in this recent article from the NY Times.

a bummer of a news day

I didn't take an audio book in the car with me today for a trip to CDSP. Mistake. I got so bogged down listening to news that glorifies war and violence. Wasn't the original November 11 celebration a celebration of peace?

To top it all off, this item caught my attention:

The nominee for the head of US AID, Rajiv Shah, M.D., is a former Gates Foundation employee and skilled at "building public-private partnerships with major technology development firms" - like - you guessed it - ta da - Monsanto.

Obama's appointments make the White House vegetable garden look like the worst kind of gratuitous gesture.

See Shah's resume here:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The True Cost of Shrimp

Great information on "The Perils of Overfishing" from Fresh Air.

Part I:

Part II:

Daniel Pauly from UBC tells it like it is: grim.

Listening reminded me that Sylvia Earle was on the Colbert Report a few weeks back and kept repeating her mantra of tilapia, catfish, carp. Darn - I wish I found farmed freshwater bottom feeders tasty.
The neon aquarium in the background is a particularly nice touch.

What Would Jesus Eat?

Just found this at

- an online event - faith perspective on food...

What Would Jesus Eat?

DATE: Thursday, November 5, 2009

TIME: 8:00 PM (New York time)


COST: Free.

CONVERSATION: Everyone eats. But what precisely are you eating? And why are you eating it? And what is the spiritual practice of eating? Lucas Land will lead an informative and stirring conversation on the relationship of faith and food. It is called "What Would Jesus Eat?" Be sure to bring your food stories, insights, and comments. You can get to know Lucas at his website when you click here.

REGISTER: Registration is free, but you must reserve your place. You can RSVP by emailing Kevin at When you do, you will receive log-in instructions.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Monsanto, Microsoft and Africa

I didn't watch the News Hour much all summer - either baseball or work in the garden filled the early evening slot - and so I was surprised to see the Monsanto ad when I tuned in last week. It isn't greenwashing - it's just blatant lying.

This print version
is tame by comparison.

The ad on the News Hour concludes:
"That’s sustainable agriculture. And that’s what Monsanto is all about."

I screamed disgust at the tv, and Moko ran under the bed.

This latest mass media lie by Monsanto has convinced me that the word sustainable is lost - I feel as though I can only use it when I know exactly to whom I am talking, and know that they share my ideas.

Vandana Shiva doesn't pull any punches in her opinions about Monsanto in this short promo for the non-profit Center for Food Safety:

But we've known Monsanto's game for a long time.

What was news to me was just how intertwined Monsanto and the Gates Foundation are.

A friend handed on the 21 September issue of The Nation, which had this article by Raj Patel
with a nuanced critique of the new green revolution proposed for Africa.

The writers draw on the research of the Community Alliance for Global Justice in Seattle, which reports that that they have found the Gates have given over $100 million in grants to organizations with links to Monsanto.

And what do Monsanto and Microsoft have in common? A deeply held belief in the value of intellectual property. It's not the simple belief in technology; it's the belief in who owns it, in who controls knowledge, in who profits.

This is so depressing I may have to find some silly comedies to watch before bedtime.

If Bill and Melinda really wanted to do something for the farmers of Africa, they would stop supporting GM seeds, with the monocropping and related land grabs and environmental degradation they cause. They'd find a way to use communication technology to help the small-scale farmers on that continent share the successes they are having using traditional knowledge of ecological agriculture in even better ways.

But philanthropy will condescend.

There's an exchange of letters about the article here: